pie chart
Figure 1.

HVAC contractors — like many other business owners — have been given many choices for marketing their business. The list includes newspaper and radio advertising, email blasts, direct-mail pieces, word of mouth, and social networking. Each one fits a certain need depending on the market and products/services offered.

Beyond that, the question remains as to what type of deal is best to offer in any or all of these marketing campaigns. Is it best to offer free or discounted products? A prize offer? Or is it best just to explain the features or benefits of the equipment you sell or services you offer?

A recent poll at LinkedIn.com of the preferred marketing offers drew 175 responses from HVAC contractors, business owners, and business consultants. The 30-day online survey ran from early August to early September 2011.

The poll consisted of one question with five multiple choice answers:

“What type of marketing promotion is best when prospecting for new customers?”

• Discount on services/products;

• Cash rebates;

• Free gift;

• None, just explaining benefits;

• Other.

The results showed a trend toward explaining benefits versus all other forms of discounted or free products or services. (See Figure 1.)

The most popular answer was “None, just explaining benefits,” which drew 66 responses or 38 percent of the total. It was followed by “discount on services/products” with 59 responses and 34 percent of the total. The other three answers shared the remaining 28 percent of the total.

Brad Kunkel, a former general manager and sales manager for two Florida HVAC contractors, said that all of the promotions involving discounts and giveaways were products of the ’80s and early ’90s, using partnerships of companies who weren’t in direct competition with one another. “I haven’t seen these types of marketing used as much anymore due to economic climate, advent of the Internet and other media, advertising budgets, and just because it seems to have faded from view,” he said. “However, with the continued need to differentiate, it may find its way back to the mainstream.”

John McDonough, co-owner of Country Comfort Heating & Cooling, Boston, said that explaining benefits was his preferred marketing promotion. “We usually are offering high-efficiency, high SEER dual fuel system or wall-hung boilers that all qualify for tax credits or local rebates,” he said. “I send out a cover letter describing what a heat pump is and how it works with a gas/oil, air/water heating system. I also include a terms letter about SEER, EER.

“The only time anything is sold on price only is when I have some customers with rental property and they usually only want base model units.”

Discounts help G. Andrew Smith of Aire Serv of Southeast Texas, Beaumont, Texas, get his foot in the door. “We have found discounts offered at the right time of the year can get us into homes we would not have gotten into,” he said. “Once in the home we can allow the homeowner to experience our ‘wow’ service and then we allow them to become a customer.”

Bill Spohn of Tru Tech Tools also likes to use discounts — initially. “The pricing or discounts get them to turn in our direction, then we try to wow them with support and customer service to make them a lifetime customer,” he said.

Dave Wells of Geary Pacific Supply in Los Angeles said he brings new HVAC contractors into his supply house by offering discounts, rebates, and free food. And he also likes to coach his customers on how they should prospect for new business. “We rely heavily on a web presence (website, social media, Google/Yahoo local) and outdoor (truck signs, door hangers, yard signs),” he said. “The best source of new customers, of course, is the referral, and I show dealers how to generate them.”

Best price is the marketing motto for Jose Colon of Refrigerant Recovery Services LLC, Powder Springs, Ga. “When we do refrigerant recovery, we try our best to give the customer the best price upfront,” he said. “That is the discount and the incentive is the refrigerant buyback. Most customers do not know that used refrigerant has a value.”

Robert Wilkos, a Florida HVAC consultant, chose the “other” response. “Offer gift certificates with an expiration date,” he said.

Another business consultant, Fred Zinos of San Diego, said, “Statements that touch on the prospective client’s expectation of satisfaction are important. Giving a discount on a product for which the prospect can find little or no application merely indicates that the product is overpriced. Tell me why I need/want the product. Tell me how it will make me younger, richer, smarter, and more successful. And do it in one to two sentences. If you want my dollars, you must first get my interest.”

Real estate broker Muhammed Saleem of Detroit said he believed in covering all forms of marketing, but if he had to make one choice, it would be a mail-in rebate. “A mail-in rebate works better for the business because it attracts customers while still saving the business a lot of advertising money,” he said.

Consultant Catherine Simpson, a marketing executive from Derby, United Kingdom, offered a different perspective. “None of these promotions are mutually exclusive and there are many activities which can be chosen depending on your offer, your target audience, and the sector,” she said. “Building up relationships, developing trust, and having other people recommend you cost nothing except time, yet can be one of the most effective methods of getting new business.”

Publication date: 10/03/2011